Tomorrow, President Museveni is expected to use the State-of-the-Nation Address to re-state his third-term agenda built around restoring economic prosperity, infrastructural development, job creation and a promise to wage a war against corruption.
In his previous speech to the nation that fleshed out the populist themes of the ruling party manifesto, the President addressed four critical issues- the recovery of the economy in the last 26 years; disagreement on prioritisation of allocation of scarce resources and the attendant delays in infrastructure projects; sabotage of vital development projects; and corruption as well as egocentrism based on monetary gain or political opportunism.
It has been 27 years of uninterrupted rule but the economy, which has always been highlighted as key to his legacy, has stuttered lately. The President has spoken about the need to create jobs as the antidote for the political class’ failure to tell the people what the country needs and instead “pandering to uninformed, wrong and populist positions”.
Although the country had registered high rates of growth, the President told the country that this progress is only felt in sectors that create little employment, bring in little or no foreign exchange and, sometimes squander the little foreign exchange the country earns from coffee and other exports.
In dealing with the scourge of corruption, the President in June last year promised to bring a law to severely punish those who endanger the future through “corruption”, “selfishness” and “opportunism”. A Bill for such law has not been introduced in Parliament although the Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi told the Daily Monitor that the government fully supports a Private Members Bill on the amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act, brought to the House by Makindye East MP, Mr John Simbwa.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, yesterday descred the President’s diagnosis of the country’s economic bottlenecks as “diversionary” and reiterated the need to fight corruption in government in order to improve service delivery. Mr Mafabi said misplaced government priorities were also hampering efforts to restore the economy and create jobs for Ugandans.
While Mr Mafabi and others have faulted the President for failure to deliver on his promises on the fight against corruption, Information Minister Rose Namayanja said the President’s commitment to introduce a new law that will deal with the corrupt is unwavering.
She said under resolution No. 3 of the NRM Caucus at Kyankwanzi, the President directed the formation of a task force which included office of the DPP, IGG, Law reform commission, Ethics and Integrity, Solicitor General to work with Mr Ssimbwa to avoid duplication of efforts.
“The President fully supports the new anti-corruption bill that seeks among others to confiscate the ill-gotten wealth and he is the one who has ordered for a number of forensic audits into the misuse of public funds in various sectors of the economy including the saga in the Office of the Prime Minister and the pension scam,” Ms Namayanja said.
“It’s our wish as government to ensure that we deal with pockets of financial indiscipline in government and private offices. I am reliably informed that Ministry of Finance has already issued a certificate of financial implication for the new anti-corruption bill and another bill for amendment of the Leadership Code Act is already before Cabinet. All these efforts seek to improve service delivery and are in line with the government’s zero tolerance to corruption.”
Away from references to corruption which costs the government about Shs600 billion annually, according to some estimates, the President may again remind his critics that tax collection was only Shs5 billion in 1986 but because of his ‘prudent’ management, it is now Shs7,000 billion.
Last year, Mr Museveni said “if this money was distributed in a kiyekera (guerrilla) way, we could certainly do these roads ourselves – at least the 19 roads in the UNRA’s category A that need Shs3,400 billion.”
Explaining what he called the “paradox of the present economy” of Uganda, the President cited growth without creating enough employment, and without earning enough foreign exchange, but instead squandering the foreign exchange earned. He said there was need to deal more decisively with the issue of infrastructure - especially electricity, roads and the railway.
Figures on the state of unemployment and poverty in the country indicate that at least 8.4 million Ugandans are stuck in abject poverty and many remain unemployed. Statistics from the labour department show that out of the 400,000 students who graduate from various tertiary institutions across the country each year, only 8,000 have a chance of being gainfully employed. Ministry of Finance officials put the number of Uganda in abject poverty to only 24 per cent.
Labour market experts say that given the widespread corruption in the country, even the most qualified for the available jobs don’t get them because the labour market is highly “patronised”. But Ms Namayanja insists that reforms in access to credit in Uganda have moved the country from 50th to 40th position globally compared to a no-ranking in the 80’s. She said increased foreign reserves, according to Bank of Uganda figures, hit an all-time high of $3 billion which gives it the capacity now to intervene in the forex market in case of short term shocks.
“Government’s deliberate and aggressive policy of attracting foreign direct investments is geared towards employment creation and we want to assure Ugandans, especially the young people, that with the discovery of oil, the country’s future is bright,” Ms Namayanja said. She said the launching of the ‘Skilling Uganda Project’ under ministry of Education is aimed at creating a labour force that is in line with the job market.
In defence of economic stability, contrary to the views from people the President labelled as “charlatans”, “liars”, “opportunists”, the Minister for General Duties in Ministry of Finance, Mr Fred Omach, told the Daily Monitor yesterday that inflation rate remains single digit -- at 3.6 per cent -- down from 30 per cent in 2011; Gross Domestic Product at 5.4 per cent and that Bank of Uganda has maintained a cautious monetary stance, leaving its Central Bank Rate at 12 per cent December last year.
These figures, however, do not impress the Public Accounts Committee Chairperson, Mr Kassiano Wadri, who observed that the State-of-the Nation Address has lost meaning. Mr Wadri said instead of giving accountability to the nation and how he intends to manage the resources in the new financial year, the President wastes a lot of time giving history and numbers, “yet the economy is stupid”. “The ordinary person does not want to hear about the percentages, they want to feel the economic growth in their pockets … The budgets have lost meaning because of corruption,” Mr Wadri said.
The President could repeat his assertion last year that Uganda needs more factories, not just beauty salons, bars, fuel stations, boda bodas and taxis. Fresh from his Asian tour, he could talk about elements of a modernised Ugandan economy based on natural resources such as agriculture, minerals, fishing, wood products, tourism and the dire need for greater and faster expansion by decisively dealing with the issue of infrastructure - especially electricity, roads and the railway in order to attract investors.
He had last year zeroed on defence and security; law and order; electricity; roads; the railway; piped water for the big towns; education; health; tourism; and scientific innovation as core issues. His response to critics who were asking him to increase salaries for civil servants, the President in his previous speech said that he feels very bad to see trillions worth of locally generated revenue being used in a manner not entirely beneficial to the economy.
“Once we build a road, it will be there for 20 years. Salaries are monthly. Increment of salaries should wait until we have dealt with infrastructure or until our oil and gas are operational so that we can use the proceedings to fund infrastructure,” the President said.
what others say about state of the nation
Rose Namayanja, Information Minister
“As a government, we are fulfilling every commitment we made in the NRM Manifesto. We have harmonised our priorities in the Budget, focusing our attention to the productive areas of our economy and we have put in place laws to deal with corruption. The achievements so far include purchase and distribution of road equipment to all districts which has increased the road network.
Okello Oduman, economic analyst
“The man will be talking about the flowery Vision 2040, which he has no time to implement, even if he wanted. That is it. For me, I would love that he fixes only a few things for real: 1. Punish thieves, 2. Increase agriculture funding, and 3. Fix road infrastructure. The rest could come in later. People should refuse to be hoodwinked.
Wilson Usher Owere, Chairman NOTU
“We want the jobs the President promised us in his last State-of-the-Nation Address and in the 2012/13 budget read on his behalf by the Finance minister. There are many avenues of creating jobs but the government has failed. For instance, the tourism sector has the potential to create jobs but has been neglected. We want a separate ministry for Labour.
Nandala Mafabi, Leader of Opposition in Parliament
“Regardless of the President’s lectures on financial discipline and economic growth, we are not making progress; we are stuck because of corruption. Lip-service cannot win the war against corruption; the President needs to take this war seriously. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and claim that things are okay without improving services.
Sam Lyomoki, Health Committee Chair
“The President says we should not talk about the need to increase salaries for public servants but he forgets that human resource is key if we are to develop as a country. For instance, for the last four to five financial years, we have been sending trillions to the roads sector, but the situation has not changed. This means that there is a problem we must deal with.
Kassiano Wadri, PAC Chairman
“We exhibit a lot of indiscipline by relaxing internal controls meant to ensure that we check abuse of public resources. Ministers are the ones arm-twisting technocrats to divert public funds and this explains why we have rampant corruption. Our dilemma is that we have a President who is either unwilling or undecided on the need to combat corruption.”
Jack Sabiiti, Rukiga County
“Any Ugandan, irrespective of his or her political opinion, who loves this country will agree that unless the current leadership desists from lavish expenditure and political patronage, the economy cannot grow as we expect. We need to redirect massive spending to agriculture, infrastructure, teachers, health workers and other civil servants who are at the front line of service delivery.”